The rise in e-commerce, accelerated by COVID-19 and enabled by investment in digital infrastructure, is changing the way people access services and facilities. This in turn is having implications for the freight and logistics sector that need to be actively and positively planned for in partnership with the sector itself.
While the freight and logistics sector is essential for our businesses and communities, it is also one of the largest contributors to carbon emissions and potentially the most difficult part of our transport system to implement solutions to reduce emissions.
We are already seeing innovation across the region when it comes to servicing businesses and providing customers with novel ways of having their goods delivered – and we will build upon this. And we will make the strongest case for investment in the capacity on our rail network to accommodate even more of the longer distance trunk movements of freight – not just to the benefit of the Heartland but the UK as a whole.
What we're doing
Informed by EEH’s Freight Study (published in 2019), the Transport Strategy sets a clear plan for taking forward our freight ambitions for the region.
Freight study (2019)
Our major study into freight and logistics identified a number of priorities for the region, including improving strategic road access, maximising the use of rail freight, and encouraging investment in greener technology.
The work - informed by engagement with policy makers, major businesses, infrastructure operators and logistics companies - provides an assessment of the region's freight needs and the implications of future demands and trends up to 2050.
It highlighted opportunities within the sector to move more freight – such as construction materials – by rail, and also how we can make the region a testbed for trialling cutting-edge technologies which will make the sector greener. There is a need to look at how we improve access for heavy vehicles onto suitable roads through the provision of new infrastructure. And, for example, we need to look at how hauliers can access better navigation information to reduce the impact of HGVs on unsuitable roads.
The study received keen interest nationally - the National Infrastructure Commission endorsed it as an excellent step forward in planning for freight, while the Department for Transport has asked us to discuss its findings, potentially influencing national policy thinking.
Alternative fuelling (ongoing)
To maximise our knowledge of this crucial sector, in partnership with neighbouring STBs, England's Economic Heartland has secured access to the Department for Transport's most current freight data. We're currently in the process of aggregating and mapping this data. It will enable us to better understand the potential regional (and local) impacts of the alternative fuelling of freight vehicles on carbon emissions - and consequently, the infrastructure requirements to deliver decarbonisation of freight and logistics. This evidence will be used to support future funding applications to the government as and when new pots become available.
Mitigating impact of construction (ongoing)
We will shortly commission a further study to understand the impact of planned strategic infrastructure on road freight demand. This is a significant issue for the region due to:
- The volume of infrastructure needed to support the region’s growth ambitions
- The limited number of rail freight heads
- The high percentage of road-based freight in the region
Through a strategic and holistic view of the materials and workforce demand that planned housing and infrastructure generates and key construction materials pathways, we can start to understand what actions could be taken to mitigate impacts – on both the environment and congestion.
Partnership with City Science (ongoing)
EEH has recently supported a funding application made to the Government’s Geospatial Commission. The application, from City Science (an SME based within the Heartland), has resulted in funding being awarded to develop a platform to support national freight decarbonisation. We are partnering with City Science to becoming a test case/pilot area. We are suggesting a focus on first-mile, last-mile freight consolidation and understanding where the utility of urban/peri-urban freight consolidation hubs could be maximised.
Working with other Sub-national Transport Bodies (ongoing)
EEH is working with the wider STB community to understand the opportunity for rail freight going forward. There is a need for a “root and branch” national approach to understanding what opportunities there are at a strategic level to shift long distance freight from road to rail. While this requires a national approach, we're working to drive the agenda forward at pace. We envisage this work happening in conjunction with a refresh of National Freight Strategy.
Felixstowe to Nuneaton (ongoing)
In July 2020 England's Economic Heartland wrote a joint letter with Transport East and Midlands Connect to voice our collective support for the ongoing programme of capacity enhancements on the internationally important Felixstowe to Nuneaton rail corridor.
The letter also highlighted the key component projects on the cross-country route that the STBs will work with Government, Network Rail and others to support national economic recovery and growth.
The Felixstowe to Nuneaton strategic rail corridor plays an increasingly fundamental role in driving the UK’s international trade, providing the main strategic rail link for freight between the ports in the East and the Midlands, the North and Scotland.
Solent to the Midlands Multimodal Freight Strategy (2021)
Network Rail and Highways England published theirSolent to the Midlands Multimodal Freight Strategy (Phase 1)in July 2021.
The Solent to the Midlands route is one of the most important freight corridors in the UK and links the major port of Southampton with the numerous distribution centres and economic hubs of the Midlands, North and Scotland. The purpose of the study was to develop a long-term strategy for the movement of freight along the Solent to the Midlands corridor.
The study has been split into several phases. The first phase was primarily focused on understanding the current state of the market as well as assessing what demand for freight on this route might look like. The study was overseen by an industry steering group which included England’s Economic Heartland and Transport for the South East and formed part of Network Rail’s long-term planning process and Highways England’s route strategy work.
The study findings show that whilst roads are critical to complete door-to-door regional and local freight movements, rail is most cost effective over longer distances and for higher volume loads. The study has recommended greater modal shift, from road to rail, to free up road capacity, especially for those journeys that are greater than 50 miles and greater than 100 miles for bulk and consumer goods respectively. Phase two of the study will focus on how the transport system can remove barriers to rail freight growth, unlock new markets for rail freight and decarbonise road freight. EEH will continue to support the development of this study.
Relevant consultation responses and correspondence
Letter to Chancellor - Felixstowe Nuneaton (July 2020)